4 Apr 2016


‘Rat Revolution’ in Lushai Hills - 1966

‘Mi-Zo-Ram’, now a ‘land of the happy hill people’ became an independent state of the union only in 1987, 40 yrs after Indian independence. It is an exotic locale in the north eastern corner of India, with 90.7% dense forest cover, lots of bamboo, just 52 odd persons per sq km, almost equal man to woman ratio and 97% literacy, all of them reasons why Mizoram is such a happy place.  
But that was not how it was in 1840 when Capt Blackwood, a cavalier pirate of sorts, led the 14th NLI Regiment of East India Company through the thick bamboo forest to go after the Kukis (Thahdos), Lusei and others, who were all hell bent on head hunting and eating themselves ‘Su-Shi’, in the raw, and displaying the leering heads of the dead men on a stake outside their cottage.

To give them due credit, the natives of erstwhile Lushai Hills were a persistent war like people and tested the patience of Queen Victoria till she annexed them in 1895 and made them her subjects and predicates, in Wren & Martin, the constitution of ‘Eng-Land’. Reason why they had bit of an attitude in 1947 and wanted to become ‘Lushai-Land’ like ‘Eng-Land’, and not be a part of Indian Union. Their attitude upset quite a few, including Sardar Patel, who wisely left the state of affairs and governance to 259 tribal chiefs, to continue head hunting and eating each other sushi, to keep the Lusei very happy in ‘Hinglish’ Wren & Martin under the ‘Tiranga’, and make them forget their aspiration of an independent ‘Lushai Land’.

After Indian independence, the entire ‘North East’ territory ahead of Siliguri continued to be one single province ‘Assam’, ruled by Congress Chief Ministers (CMs)  Gopinath Bordoloi (1946-50), Bishnu Ram Medhi (1950-57) and then, for thirteen tumultuous years by a Rasputin, Bimala Prasad  Chaliha (1957-70). Elected thrice as CM, Chaliha faced two national emergencies; the Sino-Indian conflict and the Mizo revolution/civil war.  The former had nothing to with him. But the latter was perhaps triggered by his politically savvy, but demographically catastrophic, draconian ‘ Official Language Act 1960’ which hoped to unify the entire North East, compelling all diverse ethnic groups to learn and speak in Assamese. Chaliha, with king size ambition, proactively resisted the popular demand to divide the mammoth, ethnically diverse, geographically difficult to  administer Assam state, into smaller states (with common ethnic and linguistic identity, as it is now), though he was put in charge of various Committees of central Govt of India (GoI) which contemplated such division. Only after his death in 1971 could GoI make any headway to break down the mammoth Assam province. But let me not jump the gun.

During Medhi’s innings as CM in 1954,  an attempt at ethnic cleansing was made by the 259 venerable Mizo chieftains, mainly to make the Christian Lusei and Budhist Chakamas into edible sushi delicacy; head hunting was after all a  favourite ‘time pas’ in that part of the world. The European Presbyterian Missionaries were the first to start crying. Their cry was picked up and repeated very volubly by international press, the Queen of England, President of America, and even the Pope. GoI, Nehru in particular, was heartbroken.

Medhi came under severe pressure to act. As all CM’s do under emergency, usually under ‘Air To Civil Power Act’, Medhi immediately called for Army intervention. But Maharaj Rajendrasinhji  Jadeja, then Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Indian Army, declined saying he had inadequate resources and that it was a political problem which Medhi must handle himself on political and administrative level. So VK Singh was not the first Army Chief to say ‘Bugger Off’, when asked to go and murder fellow Maoist citizens whom the politicians and bureaucrats could not handle within the political machinations of our strange democratic system.
Medhi then turned to the very spirited and dynamic Jairam Das Daulatram,  Governor of Assam, and Kailash Nath Katju, the Union Home Minister under Nehru. They helped by moving two Regiments (Rgts) of Assam Rifles, para military under Home Ministry, from Shibsagar and Shillong into Lushai Hill Tract, to assist in maintaining law and order by giving everyone in Lushai Hills the ‘Bum-Boo’ !

Medhi made the 259 tribal chieftains redundant and turned to the Deputy Commissioner Lushai Hills, S.N.Barkataki from Assam Civil Service Cadre, and the newly enacted ‘Lushai Hills Act’ to handle administration through elected ‘Autonomous Village Councils’. For a while Mizoram once again became a happy place eating food cooked with ‘Bhut Jolokia’ chillies and not sushi or ‘Tipsy pudding’ with Chakamas’ gonads. Then in 1958, with clockwork precision, the forests in Mizoram went wild with ‘Mautam’.

 Mautam, a cyclic ecological phenomenon, occurs precisely every 48 years when the strange bamboo (Melocanna Baccifera) in the jungles of Luhai Hills and neighbourhood, flowers all at the same time. Strangely, this massive flowering of the bamboo incites the pheromone and testosterone levels in jungle rats to multiply so rapidly that there is not enough for them to eat in the jungle. They then run out of the jungle like locust and spread-out all over Lushai Hills to forage food grains, creating famine and plague amongst the Homos, Sapiens, LGBTs as well as those who look and act like Neanderthals in Lushai Hill Tract.

In the Mautam of 1958, the rats perhaps fornicated with more zest because the famine and plague were most severe. The then Governor of Assam, Chandreswar Prasad Sinha, along with Chaliha in tow, moved Assam Rifle and some local armed constabulary, at platoon level, into the far reaches of the jungles, to set up posts with air dropping zones, create a civil-supply-chain for distribution of essential commodities, maintain law and order, and feed the hungry and unhappy people of Lushai Hill Tract. He also got the central Govt to send in the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to create a north to south motor-able road from Silchar to Lunglai, no mean task due to the severity of the jungles and mountains. The road was expected to not only improve communications, but also substantially increase the quantity of supplies that could be sent to Lushai Hills because Silchar was connected to Guhati by rail.

Mr Shankaran Nair, then Dir IB in Delhi (later Sec RAW before he resigned during Morarji’s time as PM), in a secretive operation, recruited and inducted an army of Malyalees, as ‘Political  Officers’ who had a covert role as ‘Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB)’ operatives all over the North East. They were meant to keep their finger on the pulse of the local people, transmit daily intelligence reports for IB HQ in Delhi. Their overt inconspicuous role was supply chain management of air dropped stores and assistants to civil administration!!! Local people were first taught social adjustment trades (carpentry, masonry, electrical applications, or simply as labourers for road construction and as porters for the public logistic distribution system). They were then paid in Indian currency. The currency was used to buy the goods that was air dropped.  It was a cyclic process, a successful non-profit business run by GoI !!!

First into the foray to meet the challenges of air dropping supplies to the beleaguered Mizos was Biju Patnaik and his private airline Kalinga Airways, operating from Guhati and Kumbigram (Silchar), also handling the to-ing and fro-ing of VIPs, para medics, political and administrative teams, all from a small wartime ‘advanced landing ground (ALG)’, (now the Lengpui Airport, 32 km from Aizwal (old Aijal). IAF soon joined in. General Satyawant Mallanna Shrinagesh, ex Chief Of Army Staff (CoAS), who succeeded Sinha as Governor, increased the quantum of solace and the Mautam crisis was more or less brought under control by 1960.

As it happens in every calamity, the locals rose to the occasion too, by forming the ‘Mizo National Famine Front (MNFF)’. The MNFF was a large work force of pioneers, basically to lend a hand with the grass root distribution of the logistic aid that was being air dropped at the dropping zones at Aijal, Champai and Lungle. MNFF was to carry it in small head loads to inaccessible far flung habitats, all over the jungle, …….one hell of a job.

And the man who quickly rose up the chain of command in MNFF was the charismatic, dynamic, 33 year old, demobilised ex Havildar Pu Laldenga, born an Assamese with Mizo ancestry and family ties. His greatest achievement was to integrate the diverse tribes of Lushai Hill Tracts into a single group called Mizos and give an identity to the Lushai Hill Tract as ‘Mizoram’. He was gleefully preferred as a stooge and promoted to the forefront by the state, as well as the local civil administration, due to his military background as well disciplined efficiency and ability to motivate his illiterate and backward people.

As Hav Laldenga’s popularity grew amongst the tribes of the new ‘Mizoram’ across the board, his pockets began to bulge. He began to develop megalomania and king sized ambition, especially when inadvertently supported and abetted by the army’s Eastern Command, as well as  the civil administration run by an ex CoAS in Guwahati. The Indian army, civil administration and the IB created the over ambitious political Frankenstein from one amongst their own cadre.

As it often happens, political mavericks create secessionist movements only when supported by rouge external nation state(s) with motives, money, cross border shelter, arms and training. Hav Laldenga became the darling of then East Pakistan, keen to support dissidents and break away groups in India. Under Paki tutelage in Oct 1961, Laldenga (along with JF Manliana, R Vanlawma, and Rochhinga, comrades from MNFF), dropped ‘Famine’ from the apolitical MNFF and converted it to a right wing fascist ‘Mizo National Front (MNF)’ with explicit secessionist intensions, to go back to the ambitions of creating a kingdom called Mizoram, the same ‘Lushai-Land’ like ‘Eng-Land’, with Hav Laldenga as King (much like Idi Amin in Uganda).

India at that time got embroiled with the Sino Indian war (1962) and lost focus of the MNF and the Mizoram. The Malyalee political officers from SIB, most of them young frustrated bachelor Catholic Christians, were using the expat missionaries as conduits for creating ‘zenanas’ with the prettiest girls in the neighbourhood. Their finger instead of being on the political pulse as Shankaran Nair intended, was elsewhere.  They became ‘sleepers’ on the job. Laldenga was left alone to ferment separatist ideology, piggy backing on the public dissent created by introduction of Assamese as compulsory official language, part of the ping pong policies introduced by CM Chaliha, with full support from ex CoAS Srinagesh and Vishnu Sahai, an ex-ICS Cabinet Secretary, who alternated with ex CoAS Srinagesh every few years as imperious Governors of Assam between 1959-68. GoI had no clue about the political trouble that was brewing in the new found Mizoram despite the bevy of ‘political officers’ of SIB present there.

Laldenga and his minions in MNF went on a recruiting drive to create a private army of mercenaries using demobilised or retired ex-military cadres to form the supervisory chain of command with younger able bodied men as jawans. 2 AR, which had just been disbanded for mutiny, joined Hav Laldenga to the last man. This private army of the MNF was then named Mizo National Army (MNA). After recruitment, the MNA cadre were secretly ferreted out to clandestine training camps in East Pakistan, where they were split, armed and trained to form two infantry Brigades (Bdes), each with four battalions (Bns), much like the Indian army.

The ‘Lion Bde’, with Bns named after Mizo legends (Chawngbawla, Khuangchera, Saizahawla and Taitesena Bns) were given operational responsibility of the northern half of Miizoram. The Dagger Bde (with Joshua, Lalvunga, Vanapa and Zampui Manga Bns) operated in the southern part. By the end of 1965, the MNF had armed themselves with basic infantry weapons; 303 rifles, 9mm Stens, AK-47, LMGs, RPGs, mostly supplied by Pakis, and others stolen from Assam Rifles. They also obtained explosives by raiding the posts of Border Roads Organisation engaged in building the north to south road in the inaccessible parts of Mizoram. Money came from raiding banks in Assam, as also counterfeit notes printed in Pakistan. The Pakis taught MNA how to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to booby trap jungle trails, to mine roads and to blow up installations.

To support the operational logistics of the two Bdes in inaccessible terrain, Laldenga called upon his old army of pioneers and irregulars of MNFF and formed them into Mizo National Volunteers (MNV) under command of MNF. By mid-1965 the stage was set for ‘rat revolution’ and civil war in Lushai Hill Tract, now referred to as Mizoram. Happy Lusei were then turned to very unhappy and angry Mizos.

As it happens in insurgency and civil war in remote areas, the MNA too had to feed off the land, depend on the villages for their sustenance (new recruits, money, food, shelter, wine, women and song). Atrocities began initially as pillage, abduction and rape. To cover that up, Laldenga called for ethnic cleansing, targeting the non-Christian minorities (Chakma, Mara, Lai, Tripuri, Hmar, Paite,…….etc). Mizoram went on the boil.

Code named ‘Operation Jericho’, Hav Laldenga’s plan was simple. He hoped the two Bdes of MNA attacking form north and south would quickly capture the treasuries, neutralise the posts manned by Assam Rifles / other local police / militia, takeover police stations and jails, capture armouries, arrest important non-Mizo (‘Vai’) officials and hoist the MNF flag at Aijal on 1 Mar, followed by a victory parade on 2 Mar 1966. He hoped that many from the civil administration would turn sympathisers and make the takeover easy. Hav Laldenga also hoped that if he could keep the MNF flag flying in Aijal for 48 hours, other countries such as Pakis would recognise the Mizo territory as a sovereign state, plead their case in UN, perhaps even invite UN peace keeping forces in the new found ‘Kingdom of Mizoram’.

The AR posts did get some indication that something was amiss when during the night of 27 Feb, Rokima, the brother of the MNF Lieutenant Lalnunmawia was killed in an accidental explosion of an IED, investigated by AR on 28th morning. However, AR could neither connect the IED blast with an impending attack, or the ferocity with which it would come the same night.

28 Feb 1966.
There was no Indian Army tentacle in Mizoram on 28 Feb 1966. The closest, 61 (then an Inf Bde), was located at Silchar. Its forces, 4 understaffed Bns, were strung about on posts all over Nagaland and Manipur tackling other insurgencies. Since Mizoram had been comparatively peaceful, the only defensive forces there were para military; one battalion of No 1 AR, besides unarmed Border Roads Organisation (BRO) road construction parties, tentacles of unarmed / armed local armed constabulary, all of them in defensive garrisons at Kolasib, Aijal, Champai and Lunglai, besides platoon sized in-depth posts elsewhere deeper in the jungle where there were DZs.

On the night of 28 Feb/1 Mar 1966, both Bdes of MNA launched a series of simultaneous well planned attacks on the AR posts at Kolasib, Aijal,  Lungle  and Champai; as well as the constabularies at Demagiri, Chawngte, Hnahlan,  Marpara,  Tuipang,  Tuipuibari,  Vaphai  and Vaseitlang. The Border Security Force (BSF) in embryonic state was just being raised and was not involved in Mizoram, not then. There is no record of employment of CRPF at this stage.

The MNF attack at Lungle began at about 2230 hrs on 28 Feb 66, at the sub-treasury office situated within the defended perimeter of 1 AR post.  500–800 strong MNA attacked the stockade and were soon repulsed leaving two AR personnel and six of MNA dead. Three AR personnel were wounded. The AR camp was then surrounded and the siege lasted three days.

On 1 Mar morning one Mi-4 from 110 Helicopter Unit which tried to attend to 1 AR call for causality evacuation was shot at and had to return empty handed, without landing. No further attempts were made by helicopters to rescue the wounded.

The siege continued with intensive rifle and LMG fire from both sides. 1 AR began to run out of ammo and drinking water, while the MNA seemed to have no such difficulties.

An AF Dak from Kumbigram made a valiant attempt to air drop ammunition and water. It too came under fire and had to abort. On 5 March, the insurgents kidnapped RV Pillai, the Sub-divisional Officer (from SIB). At night on 6 Mar when they ran out of drinking water and ammunition, Lungle post surrendered along with the lightly held garrison of the BRO. By 0700 hrs on 7 Mar, MNF flag was flying over Lungle and the treasury as well as the armoury were in MNA’s hands.

Lungle was a diversion. The main objective of the MNA was Aijal. As sun set on 28th Feb, MNA elements started to infiltrate the township and completely surrounded it by around 2230 hrs. MNA then setup road blocks to prevent vehicular traffic. They began a combing operation looking for important members of the civil administration.  TS Gill, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) at Aijal, an ex-Army officer from the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS), took shelter in the heavily defended AR garrison. On his way he managed to get hold of L/Nk Shivashankaran Nair and his HF radio set from the BRO post.

1 Mar 66
At around 0200 hrs on 1 Mar, MNA elements attacked the telephone exchange at Aijal and took control, cutting all telephone links to the outside world. An hour later, around 150 MNA combatants, led by Nk Sub Lalnundawta (ex 2 AR, by now a self-styled Colonel), attacked the District Treasury and took control of not only treasure, but the entire armoury. Within the next few hours, the MNA was in control of all the administrative nerve centres, entirely paralysing the civil administration. They also seized all the vehicles in the town. MNA attacked the Aijal AR garrison repeatedly but could not penetrate the outer ring of ‘punjis’ (sharp wooden stakes) and ditches with intensive well sited fire from AR. By daybreak on 1 Mar, Aijal was completely under the control of the MNA and the AR garrison was surrounded and quarantined.

L/Nk Nair opened communication with 61 Bde in Silchar and civil administration at Shillong, Gauhati and Calcutta by 0400 hrs on 1 Mar. TS Gill started dictating situation reports every half an hour with Nair tapping the Morse code key.  This BRO radio link remained the only means of communication with Lushai Hill Tract in the subsequent days. The bad news was conveyed to the PMO, but blacked out from the press.

The records of a fact finding mission, from Govt of Assam, consisting of an all-party group sent to Mizoram three months later states, ‘At about 0130 hrs on 1 Mar, about 150 MNA surrounded the sub-divisional officer of the Public Works Department at Phainuam (near Vairengte) and asked him to get out of the district. They also took over the departmental stores, arms and ammunition of the policemen and all available vehicles. After the civil administration and local police ran off into the jungles, the MNA retreated to Kolasib. Similar incidents were reported from Coinlang and Chawngte. At the same time MNA captured the AR post at Champhai, with help from their sympathisers inside the AR post.

At Kolasib, the MNA took around 250 civil officials, the policemen and BRO road construction pioneers as captives, and kept them without food and water for two days. The women and children were also taken as captives and kept separately in a small building. However, none of the civilian officials and government servants was harmed. The MNF perhaps expected their support in running the administration of the proposed new sovereign state’.

In a brilliant lightening surgical strike, Hav Laldenga had liberated Lushai Hill Tract, and proclaimed independence of Mizoram. Well almost. All that remained as a thorn in his ass was the vigilant and valiant besieged post of 1 AR at Aijal which refused to surrender. It was just a matter of time, before they too ran out of water and ammunition and surrendered.

At 1100 hrs on 1 Mar, Hav Laldenga ceremoniously proclaimed independence, and exhorted all the Mizos to join the revolt against the ‘illegal Indian occupation’ of ‘Mizoram’, land of the Mizo people. Due to sniper fire from the AR post, he had to cancel the victory parade. The declaration of independence was a public relations fiasco since there were only the MNF cadre present along with a few press reporters whom Laldenga had invited. They could not get the news out since all telephone lines had been cut by the MNA. However, jeeps with loud speakers were sent around Aijal to convey the declaration of independence amongst the local population. It panicked them.
2 Mar 66
On 2 Mar, MNA ambushed an offensive patrol of the 1st AR just as they set forth from the garrison and inflicted heavy casualties on them. Around 1100 hrs MNA captured Aijal jail and all prisoners were set free. This led to further looting and arson of Aijal bazar, though the bazar was closed. Because of AR's refusal to surrender, the planned victory parade by MNF on 2nd Mar was postponed to 10th Mar. Fearing oppression and retribution, the civil population of Aijal began running away into the jungles. 

All of 2nd and 3rd Mar loudspeakers were used to broadcast continuous propaganda asking the Aijal garrison to surrender.  However the garrison stood fast and repulsed the MNA sallies to overrun the post.

By now the national press as well as international press had got the wind of the revolution in Lushai Hills. Canards began to fly. Chaliha, the CM in Gauhati, was livid with rage. He went ballistic with his rhetoric. Vishnu Sahay the Governor was equally emotive and joined Chaliha in blaming everyone else other than himself or Chaliha, especially for releasing Laldenga from jail without interrogation of any sort when he was caught returning from East Pak, the previous year. Indira Gandhi, a political novice had been PM for just 35 days with Gulzari Lal Nanda as her Home Minister. There were political and policy paralysis in Delhi, as well as Guhati.

Though overwhelmed by the turn of events, perhaps because of the quick intervention of Shankaran Nair from IB, GoI immediately grasped the delirious situation and promptly passed the buck back to Sahay and Chaliha to deal with it as they deemed fit, to take immediate and appropriate actions. On 2 March 1966, the Government of Assam invoked the ‘Assam Disturbed Areas Act (1955)’ and ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act (ASPA-1958)’, handing over the ball to Lt Gen Sam Manekshaw, then GOC-in-C Eastern Command at Calcutta, to intervene and sort out Hav Laldenga and his revolution.

When interrogated by the press, Sam made a candid admission that the ‘Army has been caught with its pants down. We have lost complete control in Lushai Hills and would now have to go and use maximum force to capture it back’ !

3rd Mar 66
On 3rd Mar, the MNA led by self-styled Brig (ex Hav of 2 AR) Hruaia plundered the Public Works Department office in Aijal, looting and destroying the entire records of Lushai Hill Tract ‘Sawrkar’ (Government) Office. The violence and strife continued unabated.

A quick tactical appreciation by Sam, in consultation with Brig (later Lt Gen) Jaswant Singh, then Commander 61 Inf Bde then in Silchar, convinced Sam that the battle was lost even before it began. Jaswant estimated that, to go find transport to recall even a few from the 4 Inf Bns under his command hamstrung all over the then vast north east Assam, traverse the impregnable jungles using the only road defended by the enemy (Lion Bde of MNA), fight through the road blocks and ambushes to go and relieve the beleaguered 1 AR garrison in Aijal, 61 Bde would take not less than a month. Time was of essence, since 1 AR garrison, the only forces opposing Laldenga’s rat revolution, was likely to be overrun in a matter of few days. If Laldenga did his victory march in Aijal, Lushai Hills would be lost for ever.

Without hesitation Sam dialled Gen JN Chaudhuri, then CoAS, and did a corner kick to put the ball into the apex court in Army HQ. JNC called for a meeting of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff and asked the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Mshl  (now Mshl of IAF) Arjan Singh to use ‘Air Power’ to bailout Lushai Hills.
Heli lifting of troops using Mi-4s was the obvious answer. But in earlier attempts Mi-4s (as also Daks and Caribous) had been thwarted by intense ground fire from MNA. Some ground sanitation was called for. Army had no artillery in that area. Flying armed WW-II propeller driven Havards from flying training academy at Jodhpur to Silachar, to do escort duty as well as ground attack was considered by Op Branch at Air HQ. But this was found to be time consuming to get them operational at Silchar. Since there was hardly any choice available to IAF, the only pragmatic solution that Arjan Singh found was use of Hunters and Toofani jet fighter aircraft locally available in Assam. The CAS immediately ordered 29 Sqn (Toofanis) to move to Kumbigram and 17  Sqn (Hunters) to move to Jorhat. They were ready for combat missions at both bases by the morning of 5 Mar 66. Perhaps the lessons from 1962 war helped make this quick decision by Arjan and equally quick reactions by the fighter Sqns. The IAF had no choice but to use a sledge hammer to kill a fly.

In the meanwhile, Sam ordered 61 Inf Bde Cdr, Jawant Singh, to move forward to Vairengte along with 8 Sikh and 2 Para less a Company to make contact with forward elements of Lion Bde at  Chimlang on the northern extreme of Mizoram. Another two Bns (2/11 GR and 3 Bihar) were asked to thin the boots on ground at their posts and rush to Vairengte and beyond as soon as possible in support of the  meagre force that was led by Jaswant. Since it was then an Inf Bde, it had no artillery worth mention..

Brig R Z Kabraji commanding 311 Inf Bde at Tallimora (near Agartala) was ordered by Sam to thin the troops on Paki border and send part of his forces as reserves for 61 Bde. They were able to move only by 7th Mar, and were hence sent back half way, after MNA was neutralised by the AF and Aijal recaptured. 

By nightfall on 3rd, 61 Bde was on the move southwards from Silchar towards the traps laid by the Lion Bde of MNA, with mine fields, road blocks and ambushes. A fate worse than Namka Chu (Dalvi’s 7 Bde in 62 war) awaited them. Unless ‘Airpower’ was brought to bear in Lushai Hills, the war with MNA was lost.  Unlike 1962, the IAF did not hesitate; like a Cobra, they uncoiled and struck.

4th  Mar 66
At around 0900 hrs on 4th Mar, waves of suicide squads comprising MNV and MNA made a well-coordinated massed attack on the Aijal garrison. They lost 13 men with more than 150 wounded with no loss of life in the AR garrison, other than 9 wounded. The AR garrison was completely out of ammunition and drinking water.

Two Mi-4s of 110 HU from Kumbigram sent with ammunition boxes, medicine chests and water in jerry cans could not land to discharge stores or pick up causalities due to heavy ground fire from MNA. One single pass high level air drop attempted by a Caribou fell outside the garrison, into the waiting hands of MNA. It completely demoralised the AR garrison and they began preparations for surrender.

The MNA had taken over and consolidated all over Lushai Hill Tracts. Aijal garrison was on the verge of collapsing, but held on perhaps due to the charisma, leadership and encouragement of the DC, TS Gill present in the garrison. He had first been a soldier, and bureaucrat only afterwards.

5 Mar 66
On 5th afternoon, an attempt was once again made to land Mi-4s at Aijal with Toofani fighter escort, as well as a similar exercise by Caribou to airdrop with escort. But both attempts failed simply because of the vast difference in the speed of the fighter jets. They had difficulty in locating Aijal and could not arrive over the target at the precise moment when the Mi-4 or Caribou arrived there. Due to intense and accurate LMG fire from MNA, both the Mi-4 and Caribou turned back once again with many bullet holes. Though all these attempts by the Air Force raised the morale of the AR garrison, the time had come for direct action by the fighter jets. The trouble was that due to their high speed, they could neither locate the MNA, nor distinguish friends from foe !!

Toofanis operating from Kumbhirgram, and Hunters from Jorhat were used over Champai, Darangoan, Vaphai and Demagiri. The posts were asked to generate yellow smoke to identify them from the air.  These operations were meant to keep the MNA at bay and to ease the pressure on the surrounded posts till they could be reinforced by flying in troops by helicopter. Aijal was the main target and the AF fighter aircraft went into this battle with whole hearted zest and enthusiasm.

6 Mar 66
‘17 Sqn (Hunters) was based at Jorhat and we carried out strikes at Aijal on 6th Mar 1966. We asked the GLO to inform the AR garrison at Aijal to paint markers to indicate targets’, recalls Fg Offr (later Air Mshl) Tester Master who flew missions in a Hunter.

‘The GLO at Jorhat briefed us that an army unit was surrounded at a high ground by rebels in the middle of Aijal town. We were briefed that air support/supply by helicopter and Dakota aircraft had been met by small arms fire from the rebels.  The AR garrison was in danger of suffering casualties and needed close air support.

The AR Garrison were housed in barracks with thatched roofs, with a clear area around them the size of a football field. It was decided to use rockets and front guns to attack the rebels and provide relief to the surrounded troops (we did not use bombs).  The AR was asked to put markings on the ground to indicate the target (location of MNA concentrations). The markings comprised an arrow to show the direction of the target and strips laid diagonally below the arrow to indicate distance. If I remember right, the baseline was 1000 yds and each strip was plus 100 or 200 yds. So if there were two strips below the arrow the target was 1200 or 1400 yds in that direction.
I did two Hi-Lo-Hi strikes on 6th March with rockets and front guns (Hunter Mk 56 252 1:15 and 331 1:20 minutes).  We carried out rocket attacks first, followed by strafing of the designated area.  In both sorties, our targets were thatched ‘bashas’, which in our cine films were seen to be hit by my wingman and myself.  After the attacks, we reconnoitred the main highway leading to Aijal to interdict vehicular movement, but found no such targets.

Viju Joshi, Harry Hardas, then Sqn Ldr MS Bawa were some of the others from 17 Sqn who flew ground attack missions.  That month's log book was signed by Sqn Ldr PP Singh as Flt Cdr and Wg Cdr AS Mohan as CO.  Our EO was Flt Lt Nagpal.  The Stn Cdr was Gp Capt Kirloskar.  We received messages that our missions were successful and helped relieve the siege of the army units. 

The sound and fury of jet fighter aircraft orbiting overhead at low level are by themselves frightening enough to those who have never experienced it. And when these aircraft attack with rockets or guns, there is none who is not psychologically scarred. There were no buildings near the AR garrison, just a village of thatched huts housing and a small market that had grown around the post, which the MNA were using to hide and enfilade the AR garrison. The civil population had fled into the jungles during the previous three days. And because bombs were not used, the air attacks killed or injured only a few (14 MNA / MNV killed). The fear psychosis of the unexpected air attack, and the fire that engulfed the village (because the village was made of dry bamboo and thatch, both incendiary), these were adequate to completely shatter the morale and discipline of the MNA / MNV and MNF and disperse them helter-skelter. By the time the air attacks  were called off on the evening of 6 Mar, there were hardly any one present in Aijal, neither civil population, nor the MNF/MNA/MNV. They all ran away. The civil war was immediately deflated.

7 Mar 66
Because of the air strikes, 8 Sikhs and 2 Para had an easier passage to quickly reach Aijal. However, they did have to overcome blown bridges, mine fields, and ambushes with sporadic small arms fire from MNA stragglers. In an exceptionally zestful insertion, 2 Para entered Aijal and relieved 1 AR by the afternoon of 7 Mar. The Mi-4 helicopters then brought in water, food, para-medics and civil administration. On return, they evacuated the causalities and injured to the base hospital in Silchar. 

TS Gill moved back to his headquarters and immediately started a disaster management program with vigour. Chaliha continued to spew venomous self-seeking verbiage to the press to gain brownie points, but did not have the courage to visit Aijal, not then. Governor Vishnu Sahay, an old hand from ‘Babudom’, the civil service, kept his mouth shut and left Chaliha on a loose rein. Indira and Gul Nanda became entangled in their own battle for political survival in Delhi because of the overwhelming threat form Moraji Desai, the piss man. Lushai Hill Tract now became the baby of the Army, not only to maintain law and order, but to also administer, win hearts and minds to make the Mizos happy once again.

Continuing their incredible momentum, Lt Col Mathew Thomas commanding 2 Para moved on southwards and relieved Lunglai on 13 Mar. The MNF/MNA/MNV with Hav Laldenga moved into the jungles and mingled with the local population with the loot, arms and their deceased minds, starting a zestful insurgency abetted by Paki intelligence (ISI). This story unfortunately does not end here. It was just the beginning of a long drawn out battle in which the Indian army suffered as much, or more than the civil population, while the political kingpins continued triggering dissent and pursuing grandiose personal ambition with the help of ISI.

Aftermath : 1966 – 1987
After the MNF fled into the jungle and started a virulent insurgency, the Army Commander Sam was left holding the tub and bath water, without the baby. His staff officers in Eastern Command ran about helter-skelter and finally, for want of another example, narrowed down to templating ‘Briggs Plan’, which the British had used to subdue a similar conflict in Malaya, a decade earlier.

Briggs' Plan, was devised by British General Harold Briggs in 1950 as ‘Director of Operations’ in Malaya, to defeat the Malayan communists operating out of Malayan jungles as a  guerrilla army, primarily by cutting them off from their sources of support amongst the local population. Briggs devised a massive forced resettlement of Malayan peasantry, around 5 lk people, removed from their natural habitats. He interned them in guarded military camps called ‘New Villages’.

The only unimaginative change that Sam made, before he moved on to Delhi as the CoAS, was to change the name ‘New Villages’ to ‘Progressive Protected Villages (PPVs)’. The man who was put in charge to execute the controversial Briggs’ plan was the newly posted GOC 101 Com Zone (CZ) in Shillong,
Maj Gen Sagat Singh, who was under the impression that he had been side-lined perhaps due to his tenacious action at Nathu La. While he fixed the Chinese at Nathu La pas and fenced off the border, his colleague in the adjacent area in Sikkim abandoned Jalap La pas for ever. In the administrative melee that followed, very strangely, the man who lost Jalap La got away while Sagat’s heroic acts at Nathu La was not viewed in kindly light, perhaps because he was considered a maverick and prone to think and act out of the system box. In a war that followed, several years later, as GOC 4 Corps, Sagat’s illustrious character traits won India its greatest military victory in a thousand years. That war, as also the insurgency in Lushai Hill Tract required such a man, with ability to think and act out of the box.

In the aftermath of the civil war in Lushai hills, Sam’s desire to execute Briggs plan immediately, was not Sagat’s priority. Instead he went after Hav Laldenga and his MNF/MNA/MNV. Though Sagat was close lipped and held his cards close to  his  chest, he perhaps felt that Briggs plan was  likely to succeed only when the insurgency was controlled, a matter of chicken and eggs perception, which was to be done first ! By the end of 1966, armed reinforcements were sent to the Lushai Hill Tracts (18 Punjab, 9 Bihar, 6, 18 & 19 AR, 4 Bn of CRPF) to maintain law & order under Sagat’s command (101 Com Zone, at Shillong).

Capt Chandrakant (later Maj, VrC) of 4 Guards, recollects; ‘During the raids on MNA hideouts, the documents seized indicated transfer of large funds to MNF from the Methodist Baptist Churches in USA, and routing such funds through the Roman Catholic church in Shillong. The expat missionaries were the conduits for MNF funding and were found abetting and inflaming the MNF aspirations. Most of these foreign missionaries were therefore expelled and replaced with Christian priests from Kerala’.

Chandrakant continued. ‘The MNF/MNA/MNV cadre dispersed in smaller units, merged with the local population and continued to carry out armed attacks against the security forces in the district. The villagers suffered from both sides. The insurgents would kill those resisting their entry into the villages, while the villages suffered reprisals from the security forces in case ambushes had taken place in their vicinity. However, due to the proactive efforts of the Army to win the hearts and minds of the people of Lushai Hills, they began to turn against the insurgents and often helped the army to locate their hideouts and act as scouts. The tide began to turn against Laldenga’.

To the south, due thick forests in Burma, Laldenga had no direct escape route. Using 61 & 311 Bdes, well placed blockades on every exit route, extensive use of helicopters to reposition his forces, Sagat effectively blocked off the eastern and western escape routes. A new 57 Mountain Div was raised at Masimpur and a Counter Insurgency / Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte to train Inf Soldiers in the art of fighting counter insurgency battles. Every soldier in Mizoram was trained in this school to reduce the degree of violence and to reduce discomfiture of the innocent population especially during cordon and search operations.

Sagat then started a systematic flushing of MNF/MNA/MNV out of the jungles.. Gradually, they were either caught and jailed, or if they surrendered, sent for rehabilitation programmes instituted by the army and civil administration. Hav Laldenga escaped into East Pakistan along with a few of his cadre. Sagat then carried out clandestine cross border, deep penetration strikes into East Pak.  But Hav Laldenga, under the protection of Paki intelligence, moved first to Mirpur and then to Lalmai Hills, from where he escaped to Chittagong tracts and the jungles in Burma with what was left of MNA.

Briggs’ plan was finally put into effect by Sagat, on the insistence of Sam, with political connivance and approval of Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) which also included opposition parties, plus Planning Commission. 764 villages (95% of population in Lushai Hills) were forcibly grouped together into 18 Progressive Protected Villages (PPVs), in four phases over 4 yrs, in a 30 km belt along the Kolasib-Lunglai road, in an infamous military operation named ‘ Accomplishment’.

The PPVs had barbed wire fencing, ditches and ‘Punjis’ to protect them from MNA attack. All inmates of PPVs were issued Identity cards and had to take an ‘Out Pass’ when leaving the PPVs for personal errands. Anyone caught outside the PPVs without a pas was deemed MNF/MNA and arrested.  The major complaint against the PPVs, discomfiture for the tribal populace who were earlier nomadic, was discontinuity of ‘Jhooming’, burning of jungles to do cursory farming and moving on to other locations when the forests grew back. In reality, the Mizos lived in better conditions in the PPVs, were better fed and clothed, availed modern medical facilities, lived a safe and secure life,  all under the auspices of the Army. Many reports filed by foreign correspondents, after visiting PPVs, bear testimony. This continued till 1970.

While insurgency continued at lower levels, the space for political negotiations was created by the Army. In August 1968, the Government of India offered amnesty to the insurgents, which resulted in the surrender of 1524 MNF members. This was followed by more amnesty offers, which led to benign entry of the MNF into mainstream politics. While armed insurgency was contained, ‘Op Accomplishment’ inflamed the passions and aspirations of the Mizo peoples for autonomy and statehood, but without secessionism, or claims for ‘Azaadi’. 

In 1971, because of the efforts of RAW, who negotiated with Laldenga, the GoI agreed to convert Lushai Hill Tracts into a Union Territory, which came into being as ‘Mizoram’ in 1972. Afterwards, in 1986, in pursuance of Rajiv Gandhi’s peacenik policies, RAW once again negotiated a ‘Memorandum of Settlement’, signed by Hav Ladenga, R. D. Pradhan (Home Secretary), and Lalkhama (Chief secretary). Following the Mizoram Peace Accord, Mizoram was declared a full-fledged state of India in 1987, incredibly with the secessionist, arsonist, Hav Laldenga as its first Chief Minister !!! Laldenga finally won his war, even had a victory parade in Aijal, with the Army saluting and acknowledging him as ‘King of Mizoram’ !!!  However, political defections within MNF toppled him from office in 1988, like Humpty Dumpty.  

Hav Laldenga never rose in politics again, perhaps due to lung cancer. He was treated at state expense in New Delhi and New York. While headed for London, he died on 7 Jul 1990. Hav Laldenga, the Kaliyug King of the Mizos, was honoured with the first state funeral in Mizoram, and buried in the centre of Aizawl, the born again Aijal, capital of the 23rd state of Indian Union for which Laldenga had fought tooth and nail. More than 80% of the Mizos now live in Aijal and one wonders whether Hav Landenga is happy in his grave.

On the 50th anniversary of the ‘Rat Revolution’ Mizoram is now one of the most peaceful states in the region, leapfrogging towards prosperity. Mautam came again in 2006-07. But rats have realised that they cannot create a revolution again. Mautam has now become a tourist event. Rat revolution is perhaps over, for good. Thank God. The Mizos like my old senior comrade in AF, Joe Lalmingliana and an old GF in Aijal whose name I forgot, they are really very nice people, they deserve better; all the peace, prosperity and happiness they can have !!
Cheers to the Mizos.


  1. Hello Cyclic,

    As usual, this has been a fantastic read. Thank you for taking us through forgotten chapters of history. I am amused at how such major historical events are never found in textbooks. I will definitely share this with as many people as I can, so that more people get to know real history of India.

  2. Hello Cyclic,

    As usual, this has been a fantastic read. Thank you for taking us through forgotten chapters of history. I am amused at how such major historical events are never found in textbooks. I will definitely share this with as many people as I can, so that more people get to know real history of India.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Sir, it's great reading of forgotten history. This should be mandatory reading in military academies, even if not introduced in history books.

  6. I have just received this forwarded to me by Anil H and am absolutely stunned. I for one, busy with my civil career did not know anything about the magnitude of the operation in such detail. It also does not make it easy to read as I lost a very dear friend in Assam around at the same time and it could well have been during this operation.

    Thanks for this great story and I am also glad to see Chandrakant feature in this!

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